Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Fragile X" a Target for Autism Treatment

Researchers at Brown University are working on a possible clue to the debilitating mental anomaly referred to as autism. They call it the Fragile X granule which is found in the synapses of nerve cells and may cause the odd or abnormal stimulus-response sequences in those who have been diagnosed with the autism spectrum.

The article: 

University research team has discovered something in the brain that could serve as a target for future autism and mental retardation treatments.

Discovery of the novel Fragile X granule is detailed in the Feb. 4, 2009, issue of theJournal of Neuroscience. This finding opens a new line of research about potential treatments for autism, a neurological disorder that strikes young children and can impair development of social interaction and communication.

"If you are going to treat the disease you need to be able to target the defective elements," said Justin Fallon, professor of neuroscience at Brown. "The Fragile X granule offers such a target."

Fallon is senior author of the paper titled "The FXG: A presynaptic Fragile X granule expressed in a subset of developing brain circuits." Two postdoctoral students at Brown served as lead authors: Sean Christie and Michael Atkins. James Schwob, a researcher from Tufts University Medical School, also participated.

Autism affects as many as 1.5 million Americans, and the number is increasing, according to the Autism Society of America. It is estimated that 1 in 150 births involve children with some form of autism.

Autism can be caused by a variety of genetic factors, but Fallon's lab focused on one particular area - the Fragile X protein. If that protein is mutated, it leads to Fragile X syndrome, which causes mental retardation and is often accompanied by autism.

There is growing recognition in the field that autism and mental retardation are diseases of the synapse, the basic unit of information exchange and storage in the brain. Many groups have extensively studied the role of the Fragile X protein in the post-synaptic, or receiving side of synaptic connections. This was a starting point for the research conducted by Fallon's team in their study of the Fragile X protein and synaptic connections in healthy mice.

By examining specially prepared sections of mouse brain tissue with high-powered light and electron microscopes, Fallon's team made a number of determinations. First, they showed that Fragile X exists at the pre-synaptic, or sending side of the synapse. This is an area that had not been widely studied.

"For over 25 years the field has focused almost exclusively on the post-synaptic, receiving side," Fallon said. "Almost no one has looked at the pre-synaptic side, as it was not thought to be involved in Fragile X."

This discovery is important because scientists, if they are to treat Fragile X syndrome, autism or mental retardation must know where the functional defect actually is. Fallon's research helps fill in a potential gap.

"The implication is that pre-synaptic defects could contribute to the pathology in autism in Fragile X," Fallon said.

Even more significantly, Fallon and his lab learned that Fragile X protein is only present in a small fraction of what are known as pre-synaptic specializations. The pre-synaptic Fragile X protein also turned out to be present in microscopic granules, which look like tiny pebbles under a high-powered microscope. Understanding the Fragile X granule is important in this context because the finding could lead to more targeted treatments.

Further research is needed, but Fallon's lab hypothesizes that the granules contain multiple RNAs, or sets of genetic information to help modify the synapse during learning and memory. If their theory is proven correct, the granules might serve as pinpoint targets for eventual drug treatments of autism.

The scientists' efforts date to 2005; their finding of the Fragile X granules was "serendipity," Fallon said. The original focus was on developing an improved method for visualizing where Fragile X protein sits in the brain. That new visualization method led to the discovery of the granules.

Why Does the GOP Hate Education?

Apparently, monies for education were summarily stripped from the Economic Stimulus Bill in order to cull three Senate Republicans into voting for it.  Three Republicans.  Zero Republicans in the House.  It's all about money for education.

Recall  the GOP's continuing attempt to dismantle the Department of Education, chastising it as wasteful bureaucracy. Why is it that Republicans don't like to support education in the United States?  European nations, on the other hand, willingly fund the education of their children through their college years.  Germany, for example,  pays the cost of every German boy or girl who is eligible for university studies.  But, here in America, our college-bound students have to scratch and borrow to afford higher education.  

It is reported that all $24 billion of the state-funding for education was slashed to accommodate these three Republicans. Additionally, Title One [disadvantaged children] and Head Start program funding was sliced in half in this GOP 'reconciliation.'  

Why education?  Does the Republican party like our children dumb and obedient so that they can serve Corporate America in low-paying, dead-end jobs all of their lives?  Sort of like their disregard for women: barefoot and pregnant?

The dumbing-down of America- sponsored by the Republican Party.

UPDATE 1 PM Saturday:

CNN has listed 'what got cut' from the stimulus plan.  Here are some education-related cut items

• $200 million for National Science Foundation

• $100 million for science

• $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start

• $600 million for Title I (NCLB)

• $16 billion for school construction

• $3.5 billion for higher education construction

• $100 for distance learning

• $98 million for school nutrition

Friday, February 6, 2009


Wage freezes are spreading across the public and
private employment.The Obama 'brain trust' seems
to be devoid of thinking heads. Obama and his
'brain trust' advisers have joined by decreeing
that a man or woman cannot be paid what they are
worth, and if they don't like it they can go work
some place else. Obama has initiated mandatory
wage freezes on bailout banking and financial
officials, his cabinet, and the White House. I
believe one of the MSNBC 'Newsweek' reporters said
its like in the movie "The Caine Mutiny" where Humphrey
Bogart rolled his steel balls in his hand and wanted
to know where his strawberries were. The point being
the Obama Adm is looking for more ways to freeze wages.
Please tell me where have wage freezes ever worked?
What a sad state of affairs it is to see this man who
inspired so much hope bending to sheer ignorant populist
outcry to freeze wages, deny corporations their jets,
or take their loyal and productive employees. Either
yesterday or today Obama rolled out his refurbished jet
for short hop down to Williamsburg for a Democratic pep
rally. Wouldn't 'the beast' been cheaper? He keeps his
fleet of heliocopters and jets, but every one else is to
give them up. Yep, that'll show 'em! Guess he will be
freezing the wages of school teachers as soon as the spending
bill is finalized with all that taxayer money included for
rebuilding school and hiring teachers. HOw ridiculous it is
to see Obama start down the wage freeze road. It is a loser.

Galaxy NGC 4921

A spectacular new image of an unusual spiral galaxy in the Coma Galaxy Cluster has been created from data taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. It reveals fine details of the galaxy, NGC 4921, as well as an extraordinary rich background of more remote galaxies stretching back to the early Universe.

National Guard Promo is Deceptive

The last two times I was at the movies, a National Guard promo was shown.  It is slick, fast-moving, seductive and pure propaganda. It appeals to the 20-something male and has all of the enticement that the producers of the video could stick into the 2-minute advertisement.

The trouble is, they gloss over the blood and guts that have stained the uniform of this 'homegrown fighting force'  that the Bush Administration called into Iraq. It presents a truly deceptive and distorted view of the realities of joining this military outfit.  But then, it wouldn't be very appealing if it showed heads blown off and amputees at Walter Reed.

A letter to the editor of The Blade this morning speaks to this same issue.  The writer says,

 "If you're wondering, I was the guy who stood up after the Kid Rock/National Guard Warrior recruitment video in the Franklin Park Cinema De Lux Saturday night and shouted "What a load of crap!" Here's why: I think this video is highly disrespectful to active troops, such as my nephew, who are risking their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.

I hope that young people aren't taken in by the blurring of the lines that this video seeks to produce.

Please enlist and defend the country if you wish - we do need citizen soldiers, and I respect your decision and heroism in volunteering.

However, be sure you're doing it for the right reasons and not because you were tricked into it by high-sounding rock-and-roll lyrics sung by some guy in a dopey hat, a bunch of cynical Hollywood video producers, and movie theater operators who are raking in the dollars for their efforts.

Exactly!  Thank you, Paul Many, for speaking out, literally, against this skewed piece of propaganda.

Playing Political Games with Our Economic Stability

Those punks who lost the last election, like members of urban street gangs, are out for vengeance and they have their knives whetted and are going for the jugular of this nation. The GOP.  Like the cowards that they are, they would rather take the entire ship to the bottom of the sea than help fix it; it was, of course, their own idiotic policies that caused the leaks which quickly grew into massive flooding and serious listing.

Yet, in their own self-righteousness, they have become obstructionists in thwarting the economic stimulus package that would seal the leaks, pump the water out, and right the ship.  But no.  Petty politics rules that side of the aisle.  They would rather have another Jonestown massacre than help us get the ship back to port for repairs.

They remind me of nothing more than pirates!  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Would a group of children raised in isolation spontaneously create their own religious beliefs?

This question would make a great doctoral dissertation for a PhD in Psychology, Sociology, Theology, or Philosophy.  Or just for the hell of it.  Would a group of children raised in isolation spontaneously create their own language?  Laws? Ethical standards? Prejudices?  Fascinating possibilities that, in fact, would be impossible to observe or record.
Children have imaginary friends.  I have a photo of my youngest grandson sitting next to an empty space, although that space, he assures his parents, is occupied by his imaginary friend who, in fact, was named.  He's also afraid of the ghost in his closet and, until just recently, needed an adult to be in the basement with him while he played there.  Monsters, I think.

New Scientist Magazine's February 4 edition has a story about these supernatural creatures or creations titled, Born believers: How your brain creates God.  

The title of my posting is the last sentence of this article which would offer proof, one way or the other, as to whether the human brain is hardwired for belief in the supernatural.  The author, Michael Brooks, has researched this topic rather thoroughly, and offers arguments from several diverse groups of psychologists. Theologists were not quoted.

It is something to chew on while waiting for the effects of the Stimulus Package.

Gran Torino

I am reluctant to attend films that people say, "You really have to see this movie." In fact, I don't like to sit in theaters at all these days: they are over-priced and terribly loud.  They even have crummy commercials.  Further, there is always someone in the seats who distracts me by talking or rattling a bag of candy in my ear.

I was told that I had to see Gran Torino so that some friends, my wife and I cold discuss it on Friday at breakfast.  [groan]  Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski would audibly groan in a similar fashion throughout the film when confronted by circumstances he deemed idiotic.  

A movie with a 70's automobile as the title and Clint Eastwood as the star: groan.

"There's lot of bad language," I was warned.  Groan.

I was in the middle of a bathroom remodelling project when my wife said, "Let's see Gran Torino this afternoon at 12:50."  Groan.  My first reaction was, "You go and tell me about it!" I've done a lot of that during my life, categorizing movie theaters and Brussels sprouts in the same category.  Yet, I had been told that I must see it; in fact the 'must-see' people were older and more liberal than I, which made me a bit curious about seeing it.  "OK, we'll go!" I declared to my wife.  "It's senior-price day," she muttered as a final seal of the deal.

What I recalled from the talk about the movie was that Eastwood played a grumpy, bigoted guy living in a 'changing'  old section of town and that he was none-too happy with his new Asian neighbors. Interestingly, that town was Detroit, or Highland Park, an old village eaten up by the city of Detroit. Ford's Highland Park Assembly Plant employed many people who lived here until it closed in 1960.  I lived in Detroit while attending college in the 60's so i was very familiar with the setting.

In the opening scene, some Asians are speaking their native language and I turned to my wife and said, "They are speaking Hmong."  They were.  I knew Hmong from working in the Refugee Resettlement Program in the late 70's.  These hill people from central Laos cooperated with the CIA during the Vietnam War in the disruption of VietCong supply lines and in giving refuge to American pilots who were shot down while on missions over Laos and Vietnam .  After we pulled out of the war, the Hmong were left to be slaughtered by the communist Pathet Lao because they had aided the United States.  I know these people; I've eaten with them; I've laughed and cried with them.  I've attended their weddings and funerals.  I've been to Hmong homes in Highland Park, and now I sat watching this film with introspective eyes. 

Walt Kowalski is a hard-ass guy who, since his wife's death, has lost faith in just about everything, including his Catholic religion.  His sons and their kids are mostly disassociated with Walt and do not share the same 'values' as he.  The Korean War, in which Walt served, scarred him for life.  His 30-year assembly plant job sapped his creativity and curiosity.  His beer-drinking and cigarettes were his mode of blunting the memories. His gun, used in Korea, was his equalizer. His vocabulary was peppered with racist epithets which shielded his insecurity; gooks and zipperheads were among his favorites.

Somehow I bonded with Walt, despite our disparate personal histories. Why?  Today I am sorting it all out.  Perhaps later I'll come to some sense of it all.  Not now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dick Cheney Warns of More Attacks!

Just when we thought he'd settled into his Wyoming bunker for the rest of his life.  Of course, he would be safe from the World Court there, a court with many pending warrants for war crimes.  But no.  The Odd Wizard shouts, "Terror!" and, naturally, we cower.  Like Pavlov's dogs, we've been well trained to head for the bunkers ourselves when the Grand Poobah speaks.

Today, ran the story of Cheney's warning.  They write:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney warned that there is a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years, and said he fears the Obama administration’s policies will make it more likely the attempt will succeed. 

Oh dear.  

That Crumbling Coalition of the Willing

Cute name, 'Coalition of the Willing.' A Bush speech writer, no doubt.  Who doesn't recall that patriotic fervor  that swept across America just before George Bush's preemptive invasion of Iraq?  Just like his dad, the son line up an impressive array of other nations willing to step up to the plate and help the United States conquer Iraq and stop the mushroom cloud from enveloping Manhattan.

Mongolia, for example, flew in 50 horses and their excellent equestrian Mongol riders.  How about those fighting men from  the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Tonga and the Solomon Islands? Well, they meant to send soldiers but they don't have an army.  Still they were 'willing' nonetheless.  Who can forget the valuable assistance in securing our freedom from the forces of 
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Angola? Moldova supplied 12. Forty-nine nations from around the globe were gathered together in a mighty force to pry those WMD's from the dastardly grip of Saddam Hussein.

Then there is this story in the Daily Illini,
Scott Althaus, professor of political science and communication, and Kalev Leetaru, coordinator of research in the Cline Center for Democracy, recently found that the U.S. White House Web site has modified, and in some cases, deleted key documents in the public record. 

When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the U.S. government released a statement on the White House Web site listing the nations involved in the "Coalition of the Willing." However, over a period of several years, different versions of the three releases all appear to be originals. In the case of two releases from the U.S. government Web site, the original document is completely missing from the site.

Curious indeed.  A Nixonian cover-up, perhaps? Revisionist history?  I tried to click on three White House links which refer to the Coalition and found each one dead.  Seems that 'Coalition' wasn't exactly what the Bush propagandists claimed it was.  The Kool Aid.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Obama's Ethical Standards Remain High

Today two people that President Obama picked for positions in his administration 'withdrew' their nominations.  It was clear to me and others that they were asked to withdraw by the president himself over their tax problems.  He said that he wanted an ethical administration and apparently he meant it.

I find that refreshing, especially after the shameful Bush Administration of the past eight years.  Hope is still alive in America.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Abstractions and Neuroses of Fundamentalism

Ted Haggart appeared on TV yesterday, but not on stage, not shouting sin and damnation.  He was unusually quiet and speculative.  After all, he had fallen from grace. No longer does he castigate homosexuality as he did to all of the youngsters who attended Jesus Camp.  No, that was before he had a gay sexual relationship.  

Haggart has taken off his fundamentalist blinders and now sees a broader spectrum of God and a more encompassing view of society.  He has experienced an epiphany.  He suffered the pain of hypocrisy, but was especially hurt by the shunning he received from fellow fundamentalists after his fall.  He suggested that fundamentalists need to be less judgmental and more open to all saying, "Jesus proved his faithfulness to me more than ever. He said he came for the unrighteous, not for the righteous."

Andrew Sullivan who pens,  The Daily Dish, said this after watching the CBS interview:

I watched the whole thing. I feel for Haggard - because he is trapped between who he is and his internalized belief that God cannot love him for who he is. But God can love him for being gay. And does love him for being gay. This is hard, I know. Accepting God's unconditional love for me was the hardest part of keeping hold of my Christian faith.

Fundamentalists, as I have come to know them on this blog, are a narrow-minded lot, more interested in pointing out why people have fallen rather than lifting them up.  Perhaps I am wrong to cast all fundamentalist Christians in this light, but these are the only ones I know about, the only ones whose words I have read, whose sermons of righteousness I have struggled through.  

Sullivan says, 

"Haggard's betrayal, his lies, his compulsions, his deceits are the excruciating function of this human dead end. What we have to do as Christians is open up this always-closing door, to find a way past the abstractions and neuroses of fundamentalism to a more honest and more human acceptance of gay people as God-like. Gay people, like all people, need love. We need family. And yet we are uniquely and cruelly denied these things. And no love and no family can be genuinely based on the deceit or self-hatred that are the alternatives."

Here in Toledo, the bloggers who often land on this blog all [correction:  "most"] come from the same church, the Holland Free Methodist Church.  Are the so-called the abstractions and neuroses of fundamentalism unique to this church, this pastor, this congregation? I do not know.  What I do know is the constant homophobia penned here and on other blogs by the members of this church.

Their bigotry offends me; their righteousness sickens me.  Their hypocrisy is maddening. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Relief or Recovery?

A comparison between Obama and FDR has been written and talked about for months now. We have especially seen it in the "Hundred Days" comparison. It's as if the first hundred days of FDR's term as president ended the depression and restored United States manufacturing. Nothing could be more ridiculous. The 'New Deal' did not end the depression in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 or 1936 or '37, '38, '39, '40, or 1941. 

FDR was in his third term as President before the depression ended. What FDR did was to provide make work programs to get people working all through the 1930s and into the early 1940s. There was some relief but there was no recovery of the United States economy. At the end of 1941 the economy was still in the throes of depression.

What ended the depression in the United States? What was it that restored manufacturing and production and lead to the hiring of millions of workers on a private capital basis and not some government handout or dole? Obviously, we know that it was World War II. Despite the abilities of FDR and his "Brain Trust" group of advisers, the depression continued on until 1942. This is the lesson for Obama to ponder as he strives to revive the United States economy. Thanks to FDR Obama may
have more tools to help pull the country out of this very serious economic downturn.

 FDR's New Deal was composed of relief, recovery, and reform. It was called the "three Rs. But, it didn't happen in that order.He provided some relief with the make-work programs such as civilian conservation corps, having artist paint murals in public buildings(indeed, those wall paintings in the old Toledo downtown Public Library is probably an example of that program), roads and bridges, and the building of hydro-electric dams in the West and TVA in the South are some examples. As long as the project continued there was "relief" for those workers and their families, but the job was completed and they were all unemployed again.

 Make-work projects just don't last. Recovery did not happen. The thirties also saw most of the New Deal Reform programs passed into law to prevent the unregulated abuses of capitalism. An outstanding example of these regulations was the Glass-Steagle Act to prevent abuses in capital markets. Unfortunately, all these reform acts did not increase United States manufacturing. Nothing did!

FDR and his "Brain Trust" were stymied. They tried this and then that, but to no avail. From 1933-1942 the United States remained in depression. 

A catalyst was needed to restore manufacturing and production in the United States, and it came with the out break of World War II. From then until the 1990s the United States avoided any serious depression because of private capital manufacturing and distribution. However, as deregulation of the United States economic and financial system came with Democrat Jimmy Carter, and then continued unabatted with Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush, the United States was led by all these former
Commanders-in-Chiefs to destroy the manufacturing of U.S. companies and the production of U.S. workers. Instead, the United States manufacturing and production economy began to be replaced by a system which I term, FIRE. It seems our economy
became based on Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate or FIRE. What is so unfortunate is that this was aided and abetted by both Democrats and Republicans.

 And, they are still there as a Barney Frank, a Chuck Schummer, a Clinton, a Dodd, and on and on. A key part of the FIRE economy was/is to build homes. Well, they built more homes than there were legitimate buyers to buy and glutted the market, but we had to keep building more homes. The housing bubble was created. Now the houses are afire and so is the United States.

In my opinion the historical record shows that Obama's plan to jump start the U.S. economy with make-work schemes will not work in the long run. To me this is the real "throwing of good money after bad money". It could be money down the drain.
FDR build roads and bridges, but to no avail. The United States needs a rebirth of native manufacturing, production, and consumption. Many said throwing money at Detroit was wrong. On the contrary, to me that is exactly what needs to be done, albeit with serious strings attached. Obviously, just not Detroit but across the country, and it has to be multifaceted in that if they want taxpayer money then it stays in this
country and not building plants in Brazil, Africa, or China. We will wear shoes, shirts, dresses, slacks, socks, and ties make in the United States, not China. We will drive U.S. cars with non-oil based technology. Solar, wind, hydrogen and other forms will become the basis of United States energy within 5-10 years. Mass transit will be the norm. Lets hear Obama announce an immediate 55 mph speed limit. Carter proved
it works. We have criticized Bush for asking people to do nothing, so lets get with it.

 Now, is the time to do it. Will Obama give us relief but no recovery? That is the question.


Calvin Coolidge and John Boehner's House of Representatives.

"Calvin Coolidge would feel reasonably comfortable and right at home in John Boehner's House of Representatives. That's the philosophical distance the GOP has traveled."  So said P.M.Carpenter in an Op-Ed yesterday.  I am always attracted to oddly twinned comparisons such as this one, which is why I bring it to your attention. Calvin Coolidge, he said.  And John Boehner.  

Some of Mr. Coolidge's more famous quotes:

• When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results. 

• We draw our Presidents from the people. It is a wholesome thing for them to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again. 

• We do not need more intellectual power, we need more spiritual power. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen

• The man who builds a factory builds a temple, that the man who works there worships there, and to each is due, not scorn and blame, but reverence and praise. 

One of the biographies of this President is titled, A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge   Quite the interesting comparison. Another biographer wrote, "Then there's the blame. Coolidge's 'brand of economics' would be widely discredited, faulted for the disasters that followed"—i.e., the Great Depression. Coolidge is judged economically shortsighted. His "naive faith in the gospel of productivity and the benevolence of business...deterred him from even asking the questions that might have mitigated the misfortune." 

One of the criticisms of Coolidge was that of  not taking action to prevent the build up of credit and speculation in the stock market. All indications are there that he should have limited money at some point, but Coolidge let the market make its own correction  Where and when have we heard that kind of president before?

P.M. Carpenter's point is that today's Republican party, under Boehner and Mitchell, are still harping the economics of Coolidge as well as the old 'less government, less regulations, trickle-down' that in fact, has brought this nation to its knees.  Are the American citizens bright enough to see this or will they fall, once again, for the GOP bamboozlement once more?

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